And If Not...
“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
If you listened to country music in the 90’s, you surely recognize this lyric from Garth Brooks. It is easy to relate to the song because we have all seen some of our prayers go unfulfilled. Sometimes, like Garth, we are thankful for the way things have turned out, and it is easy to see why God did not give us what we requested.
But what about when we are not so satisfied with what God has given or withheld? When we do not understand the purpose and we do not see the bigger picture? It can be difficult to thank God for those “unanswered prayers.”
A Tattoo and a Furnace
My friend Janelle recently got a tattoo that says, “And if not, He is still good.” It is based on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Before they are thrown into the fiery furnace, they say to King Nebuchadnezzar,
…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
(Daniel 13:17-18, emphasis mine)
Janelle’s tattoo specifically focuses on that last verse, when they say that even if God does not deliver them from the fiery furnace, they will not worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idols. They are declaring that God is worthy of their worship – He is still good – even if the fire consumes them. It is a beautiful reminder that God is good despite our circumstances and even when our prayers are not answered in the way we want.
We know that in the end, God does save those three from the fiery furnace. So what about those of us whom God has not delivered (at least not yet)? How can we declare that God is good even if he does not answer our prayers in the way we desire? These questions do not have an easy answer, especially when you are living in that reality.
For those of you who are in the midst of suffering and hardship, waiting for God and wondering if and when He will answer you, or for those who already know the outcome and did not receive what you asked for – I wish I could give you more than a blog post. I wish I could sit with you and listen to you and pray for you and mourn with you. But my prayer for you from here on the other side of the computer is that you would know you are not alone and that you would have others who will come alongside you and help bear your burdens.
I also pray that you would find strength and encouragement in God’s Word. I do not want to pretend that I can wave some “everything happens for a reason” wand and make you feel instantly better, but I do want to leave you with three Scriptures that I have clung to when I have struggled to believe God is still good even when I have not received what I asked for from Him.
John 16 – Jesus’ words to His disciples about suffering and hardship resonate so much in the midst of sorrow and pain. He does not pretend that life will be easy, in fact he guarantees that in this world, we will have trouble, but reminds us to “take heart, for [he] has overcome the world.”
Romans 8:18-39 – it has been truly comforting to me to be reminded that God is working all things for my good and that nothing can separate me from His love, even when I struggle to see or feel those truths.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – all three of these sections of Scripture mention looking toward Heaven to help us persevere here on this Earth, but I especially like how this verse reminds us that the troubles we face here (even the ones that feel heavy and long) are “light and momentary” compared with the glory we will experience for eternity.
May God make us people who can say with all our hearts, “And if not, He is still good.”
See y’all in the Round,
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."